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Eugene Weekly : Music : 4.12.07

Two Worlds in Harmony

Saluzzi & Lechner meld jazz and classical, Europe and South America

BY BRETT CAMPBELL

Anja Lechner and Dino Saluzzi

Quick, name a bandoneon player! Now, name another. Most music lovers can identify the late, great Argentine composer/bandoneonero Astor Piazzolla as the musician who put the expressive sound of the South American button accordion on the world stage; it became the sonic signature of his nuevo tango/jazz/classical fusion. Since Piazzolla's death in 1992, the bandoneon's major innovator has been his protegé Dino Saluzzi, whose atmospheric music lacks the overt rhythmic pulse of Piazzolla's fractured dances but more than compensates with its intoxicating moods. Saluzzi has drawn jazz greats such as Tomas Stanko and Charlie Haden to collaborate with him on albums for the innovative ECM record label over the past 25 years. He's also worked with classical musicians; while recording his award-winning 1996 album with the Rosamunde Quartet, he struck up a visionary musical partnership with the ensemble's cellist, Anja Lechner. They've just released their first CD, and the resulting U.S. tour — his first — starts right here in Eugene at the Shedd on April 18. The melancholy aura conjured by both instruments permeates the European classical, South American folk and jazz elements in their music, much of which is improvised.

The Shedd also hosts Carl Woideck's tribute to Duke Ellington on April 13. The UO music prof, veteran jazz saxophonist and KLCC jazz radio host has enlisted the cream of Eugene's jazz crop — saxman Steve Owen, trumpeter Tim Clarke, pianist Greg Goebel, bassist Tyler Abbott, drummer Kevin Congleton — to play both familiar ("Mood Indigo") and seldom-heard works by one of America's greatest men of music and his cohort Billy Strayhorn. The Shedd hosts more classic jazz on April 17 when it brings back popular singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli to play a tribute to another great American musician: Frank Sinatra. Early in his career, Pizzarelli opened for the blue-eyed one, and his famous guitar-playing father Bucky played on many of the Chairman's classics. No one can match Sinatra's voice or Ellington's orchestra, but these musicians should do the music justice.

Most of the operas you hear about today are 19th century classics or 21st century works by John Adams, Philip Glass, Tan Dun, Jake Heggie and other contemporary composers. At LCC's Performance Hall April 13, 14 and 15, the UO Opera Ensemble and Orchestra offer the rare chance to see and hear a trio of worthy mid-century operas composed in between. Some are so short that they're seldom produced — too much work and expense for so little stage time — and yet their very brevity makes them more accessible to the TV generation than your standard three-plus-hour Romantic marathon. Ralph Vaughan Williams's bleak, stormy (the score specifies a whooshing "sea machine") 1936 setting of the 1904 Irish tragedy Riders to the Sea, a play written by his contemporary John Millington Synge, is one of the composer's finest works, clocking in at just over half an hour. A Hand of Bridge is even more concise: In under 10 minutes, between discards and trumps, a pair of card-playing couples sing about their lives, their fantasies and what they really think about the others around the table. Samuel Barber's jazzy music playfully underscores his life partner Gian Carlo Menotti's wry, witty 1959 libretto. A clever mélange of satirical pop song, musical theater and operetta, Leonard Bernstein's 1952 Trouble in Tahiti superficially recounts a day in the life of a bickering couple (reputedly based on the composer's parents) mired in domestic misery. But, anticipating the musicals of his protegé Stephen Sondheim, it's also a poignant character study in words and music, a potent early excoriation of the vapidity of suburban life — the little white house, the gym, the psychiatrist's office, etc. All three works show how opera can tell compelling stories of contemporary people's lives. On April 25 at Beall Hall, the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (a group of UO student
performers) will perform a free show of one of the 20th century's most delightful music-theater works: Igor Stravinsky's devilishly sly fable A Soldier's Tale, for three actor/dancers and chamber ensemble.

The Eugene Symphony finally gets back to contemporary music in its attractive April 19 concert. Arvo Pärt's brief, brooding Fratres is, in various arrangements, one of the most performed contemporary orchestral compositions — a modern classic. Fans of John Adams's early works were initially flummoxed by his dream-inspired 1985 Harmonielehre; did it repudiate his accessible minimalism, satirize late Romanticism or somehow try to fuse two seemingly incompatible worlds? Judging by the passionate, decidedly unironic performance I saw him conduct with the Los Angeles Philharmonic last year, Adams's grand vision transcends such simplistic notions, but it's one of the rare works that can appeal to both musically conservative and adventurous listeners. The program features one of Joseph Haydn's most glorious works, his Cello Concerto No. 2, featuring the deservedly acclaimed young virtuosa Alisa Weilerstein.

 

 

Centrifugal Forces

Tight harmonies lead group's third CD

BY SUZI STEFFEN

"When it's a clear day in the Pacific Northwest and those massive volcanic mountains pop up, I love that," says Girlyman founder Nate Borofsky. At the time, it's freezing in Brooklyn and 75 degrees in Eugene. Er, maybe that weather will return for Girlyman's visit to Eugene April 15. But no matter what, Girlyman members know how to take the good with the bad and how to deal with change.

Girlyman (pictured), Chris Pureka. 7 pm Sunday, April 15. John Henry's. $15.50 adv., $17 door. 21+ show.

Girlyman, which formed when singer-songwriter Borofsky moved into a Brooklyn apartment with singer-songwriter friends Ty Greenstein and Doris Muramatsu, begins a tour in Seattle Friday night with the release of Joyful Sign. The group's third CD, Sign contains the mix of ethereal harmony and clever wordplay that has earned the group headlining status after several years of opening for acts like the Indigo Girls and Dar Williams. And the group is moving on in other ways: Everyone's getting out of the apartment, which Borofsky says is now "a bit cramped and crowded." Muramatsu will stay in Brooklyn, but Greenstein and Borofsky are moving, separately, to Atlanta. Girlyman plans to stay together, Borofsky says, but the new album signals the change with the theme of the title song: "Leaving is a joyful sign."

On the new album, as on the band's previous releases, Girlyman sometimes sounds like a three-person Simon and Garfunkel (particularly on "Sunday Morning Bird") and often like their folky colleagues the Nields. Wistful slower tunes like Muramatsu's bittersweet "Carols at Christmas" and Greenstein's anguished "Easy Pearls" provide a breath between the bouncy, energetic, often banjo-focused songs that Borofsky and Greenstein write together. But those are the strongest songs on the album, songs that not only belong on any "get your ass in gear"' playlist but also provide moments of transcendent pleasure. The lyrics of "Joyful Sign" play with language and flit from self-reflective commentary on rhythm to wry acknowledgement of being in love with someone "like the sun / You rise and shine, but you're not mine / You shine on everyone." And "Through to Sunrise," which combines words about Sept. 11 with a driving, drinking-song sound, keeps toes a-tappin' even as it acknowledges life's crazy mix of grief and bliss.

One emotional core of the album must be "Reva Thereafter," a song Borofsky introduced at Luna last November by telling the backstory: His grandmother, who was dying, decided that she would control the process herself, and after one last holiday with her family, took her own life. Reva, whom Borofsky described as a vibrator-using, pot-smoking role model, left behind loss and joy. Many people come up to speak with Borofsky after Girlyman sings "Reva," he says, most of them with similar stories. "But the heart of the song is losses, celebrating someone you've lost."

As the members of the group take their separate paths out of what "Through to Sunrise" calls their "Brooklyn dive," Borofsky says, the change "leaves room for something new and exciting to come up."

 

 

Punch Drunk Shove

Amandan

If you still haven't completely recovered from St. Patrick's Day, Amadan might be the band for you. No identity crisis here; the six members of Amadan distill fast and furious Irish-Gaelic punk rock with the explicit intention of whipping their audience into a frenzy as frothy as the head on a pint of Guinness. Their press photo kind of makes you feel like they might kick your ass; their music makes you feel like even if they did, it would be worth it and you probably did something to deserve it anyway.

It is difficult to say whether Amadan's instrumental fervor and unapologetically trashy nature do more to orient them as contemporary fusion artists or boost their credibility as genuine practitioners of fine Irish-Gaelic musicianship. Their latest album, Pacifica, stumbles along in the footsteps of its predecessors, Sons of Liberty (2002) and Hell-Bent 4 Victory (2004), all blending boot-stomping, whisky sloshing, reel-heavy pumpers with a few somber, more reflective melodies. And while Pacifica would be a fun album to listen to at a party, it is also worth a thoughtful listen, especially the opening jam, "The North Side," and the painfully colorful ballad "Used to Know."

Anyone with more than passing familiarity with Irish music is probably no stranger to the nameless, almost primordial emotions stirred by the poignant wail of a penny whistle. Longing, frustration, abandon, rage, regret, exuberance, surrender; the Irish legacy is passionately complicated. True to its roots (be they biological or artistic), Amadan is capable of inspiring fans to rowdy excess, but it's far from being just a party band. Like that of influences Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys and most famously The Pogues, Amadan's musicianship evokes the tragically beautiful union of poetry, pride, identity and alcohol. Plus, if you don't go to their show, they might find you and hurt you.

Amadan plays with My Life in Black and White and The Dead Americans at 9 pm Saturday, April 14 at John Henry's. 21+ show. $4. — Adrienne van der Valk

 

Travels with Cello

Alisa Weilerstein

Alisa Weilerstein never sought the world of the music conservatory; instead, the 24-year-old cellist deliberately chose an Ivy League college and a tough major, Russian history. Maybe she needed a slight break from the world of performing that began when she was four, but she also felt completely supported in her musical life and wanted something "different." She comes from a musical family (her mother is a pianist and her father a violinist; they perform sometimes as the Weilerstein Trio) and split her high school time between what she calls "regular high school" and the Cleveland Institute of Music. But three years after graduating from Columbia University, she sports a musical career that must be the envy of any aspiring soloist.

This year, she made her New York Philharmonic debut by playing Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto under the baton of Zubin Mehta; in the high-pressure environment, critics wrote, she performed brilliantly. And she's constantly on tour, zipping from country to country and trying to relax by reading, running and burning up cell phone minutes like mad. She loves playing Prokofiev and Shostakovich, but with the Eugene Symphony, she's playing Haydn. Um … Haydn? She laughs. "No, I play it all the time; I love the piece! It's just so joyful and really fun to put together." The piece is the Cello Concerto No. 2, and the audience should enjoy the music along with Weilerstein's lauded skill.

Though it's her first visit to TrackTown, Weilerstein, who calls Vancouver, British Columbia, one of her favorite cities, enjoys the Pacific Northwest and says she's happy to be playing in Eugene. Weilerstein hooked up with the symphony after working with music director and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero in Buenos Aires. "Giancarlo is great!" she says.

The Eugene Symphony's program makes the ebullient Weilerstein's piece look sedate: Arvo Pärt's Fratres, which exists in a daunting number of variations, and, in a contemporary swerve, the dream-inspired and cello-led Harmonielehre by John Adams. The Eugene Symphony plays at 8 pm Thursday, April 19 at the Hult Center. $15-$46. — Suzi Steffen

 

 

Listen Yonder

Is Yonder Mountain String Band abandoning its bluegrass roots? Yes, a little, although their press calls it "transitioning." So far, fans love the band's newest non-traditional approach to bluegrass.

Tom Rothrock, producer of Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith, Beck and James Blunt, produced the new record, a self-titled Vanguard Records release. In addition to being the first time the band has used a "rock" producer, this also marks the first time the band has added drums, courtesy of longtime Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, to its standard lineup of banjo/bass/mandolin/guitar. It's also the first time the members wrote (almost) the entire album as a group. With so many "firsts," it's no wonder the band titled the album Yonder Mountain String Band, as if it really were their first.

Rothrock wanted a tune with a spiritual feel, which resulted in "Midwest Gospel Radio." Adam Aijala electrifies his guitar in some places on the album and duels with a banjo on "How 'Bout You?" The track "Angel" is really more folk rock than bluegrass; the fiddle keeps it in the bluegrass camp, but overall, it's rock inspired. Ambient noise manifests on the album's closer, "Wind's On Fire." YMSB has always bridged the gap between traditional bluegrass and experimental ways of approaching acoustic music. With this album, the approach is less traditional than ever.

The band is in the midst of an extensive tour traversing the western states and has just announced that it will headline Red Rocks Labor Day weekend on September 2. Another announcement concerns throwing things at the band while during performances. It seems YMSB's members will absolutely not tolerate this new phenomenon taking place at some of their shows. Unless you want Yonder to wander offstage while here, Eugene, mind yer manners.

YMSB plays at 8 pm Wednesday, April 18 at the McDonald Theatre. $20 adv., $25 door. — Vanessa Salvia